Marriage Around the World
Text by Major Rogers
Marriage, matrimony, wedlock. The ultimate tradition, the ultimate bind. Done for love or lust, tradition or arrangement. Two become one.
The word marriage stems from Middle English, where mariage comes from Old French marier, meaning to marry, both born from the Latin word maritare, defined as providing a husband or wife.
In America, it has become part of a ceremony that sometimes is as cookie-cutter as it is ceremonial. Brides and grooms, best men, maids of honor making the personnel of the court. A religious, or appointed, administrator oversees written vows and pronounces the couple’s union. Rings and a kiss round out the ceremony, and the pair leave the gathering as one.
Side note: The practice of throwing rice at the exiting couple, which represents rain and its power of prosperity and fertility, has been banned by many wedding sites. The excuse is that the uncooked rice is bad for birds. But between you and me, and a veterinarian query, it doesn’t harm birds – venue operators just don’t want to clean up the mess, lol.
I set out on global travel, via the internet, to look at how other places, cultures and people who share our humanity and planet celebrate the day of marriage. Here are some of the strange and wonderful customs that I found.
At one time in Fiji, just as in many other places around the world, marriages were arranged. It was thought that the couple isn’t only a couple, but a binding agent, to include two tribes, making them all stronger as a whole. A more nuanced tradition, also born of those times, comes with the presentation of a sperm whale’s tooth to the prospective father-in-law. This practice is known as tabua and is still taken quite seriously by many in the culture. Men are known to save and shop for their tooth even before meeting a mate, and also because the item is becoming harder to come by and subsequently more pricey in today’s rules of conservation. However, there are still plenty of teeth available for those men willing to spend on the tradition in the hopes of impressing the father of their hope-to-be bride.
In Germany, oftentimes a traditional wedding includes primarily immediate family and relatively few guests. A practice called Polterabend requires guests to smash their porcelain dinnerware on the ground. Polterabend’s root verb means to make a lot of noise.
It is a traditional move to bring good luck and scare off any bad spirits. The couple spends the evening, which oftentimes goes until morning light, sweeping and cleaning up after the “clumsy” guests. It’s looked upon as the first efforts of a married couple to work together as a team.
There are several traditional wedding ceremonies that a couple can follow in Japan. In the binding ceremony called San San Kudo, which literally translates to “three three nine times.” The number nine is considered lucky. This tradition, which is one of Japan’s oldest, dates back to the 17th century and requires the couple, and sometimes their parents, to sip sake instead of exchanging vows. Three ceremonial sake cups, called sakazuki, are stacked. The couple is to sip three times from each cup. There are different beliefs as to what the sips represent. Some say the cups represent heaven, earth and humanity. Others see love, happiness and wisdom. Another belief is that the cups represent the human flaws of hatred, passion and ignorance. Parents may be included here. The first cup represents three sips for the three couples, the second cup represents said flaws, the third cup represents freedom from those flaws.
In Peru, a wedding cake ritual called the Peruvian Cake Pull takes place. The cake is created with multiple layers, with ribbons protruding from the cake. At the end of one of those ribbons is a mock wedding ring. Before the cake is cut, all single women are asked to approach the cake and take a ribbon and pull. The lucky recipient is said to be the next to marry. It’s the equivalent of the American bouquet throw. The tradition is starting to take hold here in America. Here as in Peru, the cake is sliced for the couple to feed each other and then passed around to the guests.
A dying tradition in Scotland, called a Blackening, is making a surprise return to custom. Here, a couple is willingly, or lovingly, apprehended and tied together to a tree or fence post. From there, loved ones pour various distressing things, such as condiments, glitter, confetti and feathers, on the two. The ritual is said to start them off with good luck. Nowadays, we’d call this a team-building exercise, as getting through something as stressing as this can show the couple that can get through anything. This fact alone brings a sweetness to the seemingly bitter ritual.
In it all, the love, the unknown, the commitment comes the ultimate goal; Two become one – whether it’s in Mauritania, Africa, where brides are expected to become chubby before the ceremony to depict a successful household, or in South Korea, where groomsmen beat the bottom of the groom’s feet with a dead fish and bamboo to assure a successful wedding night.
All “strange,” all “odd,” but all done in the hopes of a successful blossoming love story.